Would you describe yourself as an ambitious person? Have your life choices been fueled by ambition, blind or otherwise? I only ask because that’s a question I’ve encountered a few times this week. In a podcast I listened to, a book I’m reading, and a radio interview I heard. All in the space of a couple of days. Weird, eh?
The other day I listened to the first episode of Alyson Walsh’s new venture. That’s Not My Age Podcast is a series of interviews with women of style (and substance, I might add). Alyson talks with them about aging, style, their careers, what they’re wearing, and what they’re reading. Her first interview is with Lucinda Chambers the former fashion director for British Vogue, a job from which she was (famously) fired a couple of years ago. You can read the (edited) Vestoj interview in which she talks about that, and about the fashion industry here. But Alyson doesn’t drag any of that old news up in her conversation with Lucinda Chambers. They natter on about fashion, Chambers’ life, and her new career adventures, including the clothing brand Colville which she co-founded.
I loved this interview for many reasons. Especially when the conversation wended its way around to how Chambers dresses, what she likes, and where she shops. I love that she said she loves Phoebe Philo who I love too. Ha. Too many loves. And I was fascinated by the discussion of how she and her partners are building their new brand Colville.
But I think what interested me most was her answer to Alyson’s question about ambition. Chambers says she has never been particularly ambitious, but she is “driven.” She distinguishes between the two terms by saying that, to her, drive is an internal thing, the push to do or be the very best you can, while ambition is more for external recognition. And she adds that oddly enough at age 58, she is now more ambitious than she’s ever been. Ambitious for Colville and for her undisclosed newest endeavour to excel, to become recognized, and successful.
We all seem to have our own definition of ambition, don’t we? I mean, of course we recognize that it’s something, an aim or goal, for which a person strives hard. But that striving can be spun as positive or negative. Especially when the ambition is more about “rank, fame, and power” than it is about doing one’s best or doing what’s best for others.
So yeah, this week I’ve been hearing about ambition all over the place.
I’ve been reading the latest in a series of mystery novels by Peter Grainger. I really like Grainger’s books. They are police procedurals, and the left-brained part of me, the rules and organization part, enjoys reading about the accumulation of evidence, and the various paths taken to follow up evidence with the aim of bringing a criminal to justice. But I also really love Grainger’s characters.
The series centers around Detective Sergeant David Smith and his team. Smith is an ex-chief inspector who, we’re told, took a demotion when his wife became ill following a particularly demoralising case. When the series starts Smith’s wife has died, and he has no desire to thrust himself back into a position of greater power, no desire to restart the corporate climb. But he is still an amazing detective: bright, quick-witted, notoriously anti-political, and idealistic, in a care-worn kind of way. Idealistic about getting it right, and by “it” I mean his job. And he is an amazing teacher/mentor to the young detectives on his team.
Grainger often deals with issues of ambition in his books. About how ambition and the selfish thirst for power can destroy an organization. He seems to take the Shakespearean view of the evils of ambition. You know, the one from Macbeth where Macbeth’s “vaulting ambition” for power is seen to “o’er leap itself” and comes crashing down, destroying the ambitious and lots of innocent victims at the same time.
I know from my own experience that sometimes in education, ambition is derided. Not the hard work part, or the idea of being the best one can at what one does. But the rank and power part. Teachers whose earliest aim is to climb the corporate ladder rather than work with kids are often scorned by those who decide to remain in the classroom. And of course this isn’t always fair. I’ve worked with wonderful leaders, who took their passion for kids and for teaching with them when they left the classroom. And in consequence are the very best kinds of leaders because they’ve never forgotten what’s important. But I’ve also worked with the other kind. But let’s not go there.
I guess the kind of ambition that is derided in education, or in any field really, is the kind that is blind. Where the ambitious are blinded to the consequences of their actions except where it furthers their own aims. Lady Macbeth seems to think that Macbeth while ambitious does not have enough ruthlessness to achieve his goals, he doesn’t have what she calls the “illness should attend” ambition. That’s where she comes in. But of course we all know how that turned out.
In Grainger’s books his characters strive, mostly, to right wrongs. At least the sympathetic characters do. The ones we’re moved to view with contempt are those that, like Macbeth, strive for position and power that is unearned, and unwisely wielded. I found it interesting that in his latest book, Songbird: A Kings Lake Investigation, there is a very ambitious female detective whose views are a bit like Lucinda Chambers’. That one can achieve recognition, and even maybe power, by doing a job well.
And if ambitious people can achieve their ambitions by doing a job well, well, all the more power to them. Ha. Pun intended.
I started writing this post yesterday. But I became so fascinated by all things about Lucinda Chambers that I’ve dawdled. I love that she is starting something new at age almost 60. She’s changed gears, and is using the skills honed over years as fashion director in a whole new way. And she says she’s learning all kinds of new things. Especially about technology. She’s pretty inspirational, actually.
Have a listen to this interview. She was still at Vogue when it was recorded, but it explores aspects of her early life and her view of fashion that I found really interesting.
If you haven’t already checked out Alyson’s new podcast, you should. I’ve listened to all three of the interviews there. In fact with Hubby away this weekend fishing, it’s just been me and Alyson and Peter. Ha. I thought it was fun to hear Alyson’s voice for the first time. And her laugh. She sounds exactly like my friend Kristin when she laughs. Find out how to access the podcast here.
And if you’re interested in Peter Grainger’s books, there are 8 DC Smith books. They’re only available in digital format. The first book in Grainger’s series is An Accidental Death. You can find it here. I suggest reading them in order, there’s a lot of reference to previous books in the later ones. I have an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you click on my link and buy I will receive a commission.
I don’t think I am a particularly ambitious person. Although I am a perfectionist, and I do tend to throw myself into things. Not sure that makes me ambitious, or driven. It can, however, make me extremely exasperating to live with. At times.
How about you?